Prior to the late 1990s Bollywood was an all together different being and has since gradually metamorphosed into a slick new avatar. Anupama Chopra takes us on this journey of change through a series of previously published magazine columns (most from India Today) punctuated with extracts from her books on specific Bollywood films and personalities.
As most of the content in the book was written when the events were actually unfolding, the writing has a live feeling that writing in retrospect cannot possibly capture.
Chopra begins with the biggest Bollywood blockbuster of them all. Sholay, and then leapfrogs to 1993, a time when Bollywood was struggling to get out of the wastebasket that was the 1980s and culminates with an extract on Shah Rukh Khan.
As the book is made up of short pieces it does not demand a dedicated long read. It took me more than two weeks to finish reading 376 pages. Filled with interesting anecdotes and loads of trivia the First Day First Show: Writing from the Bollywood Trenches is a Bollywood addict's delight.
While the book extracts make for a much better read than the pieces from the magazines, it is the latter that gives the book its distinct flavour. This book is not as much about its writing but what has been written about.
First Day First Show manages to capture the different aspects of the industry, from the glitz and the glamour to the dark underbelly. Chopra's writing for foreign magazines is in stark contrast with what she writes here. Obviously, their readership has to be padded with backgrounds but depictions of half-naked children playing in the mud are so cliché.
Also if the publishers could have put the original date of publishing at the beginning of each piece, rather than in the end, it would make it easier for the reader to tune his mind to a particular era in advance. I had to flip to the end of each chapter to first see the date and then resume reading.
While it does tell the story of how contemporary Bollywood came into being, it doesn't make for a smooth read as the disjointed chapters are only arranged chronologically and not in a flow that would add to the readability.
Journalists are often lazy writers, and repeat sentences and ideas that they have used elsewhere. It becomes more evident in a collection of articles, as in First Day First Show.
The book also packs in a few film reviews, many of which are scripts from the TV show that Chopra hosts complete with star ratings. In an oversight on the part of the publishers Oye Lucky Lucky Oye is given a three star rating whereas the footnote states that the film was reviewed before star ratings were introduced on her show.
The book might have captured the ups and downs of Bollywood in the last two decades, the lack of mention of many landmark films is conspicuous. Maybe because Chopra, as a film journalist, hadn't written about them or they were left out of the book on purpose. Jimmy gets a couple of pages, Dil Chahta Hai only a fleeting mention in some other context.
This book, as film reviewers often say, is only for the fans. Other may find it a bit weary.
First Day First Show By Anupama Chopra Publisher: Penguin Books Price: Rs 499